Environment: Call for ACTION

Environment: Call for ACTION

Last Friday I posted a blog about Greta Thunberg– facts I read and liked about her and the movement #fridaysforfuture. I got some good comments from my friends regarding the blog, for which I’m thankful. But did the blog inspire anyone enough to change, to ACT? That, I’m not sure. I come from an I.T. field background, where unlike media and political parties, following up on issues until they are solved is a norm. So what you are reading now is kind of like a follow-up mail. What I’m trying to ask is: “Hi friend… How was your last week? Are you okay? Are you happy? Did you take any new steps last week to help our environment? I would love to hear what you did. It will help and encourage me to improve further. So while I wait for those replies, let me tell you about some of the GRETA-affected-areas in my own life, since last week.

One area where I think I improved is in ‘switching from private to public transport’. I usually travel by trains or buses for long journeys. For short distance travels, I tend to depend on auto-rickshaws. But last week I was able to reduce my dependence on auto-rickshaws significantly by travelling by buses altogether or by combining bus & walk. The family visit to Church(to and fro)on Sunday was the only instance where I used an auto-rickshaw(shared by 3) last week. However, this is an easy area for me since I don’t drive. (Yeah, I don’t 😬😂) Personally, I have identified two other areas where I need some serious improvement: reduction in the amount of plastic I use and the meat I consume. But that’s a battle I still need to effectively work on.

As part of educating myself on the ongoing climate crisis, I read a lot of eco-friendly content on the internet. Since Greta often stresses the need to implement PARIS AGREEMENT, I decided to read the original text and make points on what we can do as citizens to help implement it. The document scared me initially since it is 174 pages long. But then I realised the document is long only because the agreement is given in multiple languages like Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. It is not a difficult document to read and comprehend(For the English version, refer to pages 25-51). So I do recommend you to read it. But if you prefer a short video with the key points, here it is. (Please note the video was made in 2016, so there are some changes in the figures showing the ‘current’ rise in temperature.)

Article 2 of the Paris Agreement pretty much summarizes its intent, so quoting the same below:

1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention,
including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of
climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate
poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below
2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature
increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would
significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate
change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions
development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and
(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low
greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of
common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light
of different national circumstances.

So the main point in the document is: all countries should take measures to regulate the global rise in temperature to a maximum of 1.5-2 degree Celsius than in the pre-industrial times. Measures suggested include low greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable food production, sustainable development etc. The developed countries are expected to help less developed/developing countries with funds and transfer of technology in this process. If the measures are not implemented immediately, the global temperatures will rise drastically in the near future. This will lead to a chain of catastrophic climate changes. Various human activities like burning of fossil fuels, agriculture, industry, transportation, deforestation, unscientific waste disposal etc increases the amount of greenhouse gases(Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Fluorinated Gases, Black Carbon/soot etc) in the atmosphere. This leads to global warming which in turn triggers climate changes. Climate changes are not a future possibility anymore, they are happening all around us in real. How many of the below climatic changes are you experiencing personally or are aware of?

  1. the rise in global temperature
  2. receding glaciers
  3. melting ice caps
  4. increase in sea-level
  5. change in rainfall or climate patterns
  6. increase in extreme events (like floods, hurricanes, heat strokes, heat waves etc)
  7. bleaching of coral reefs
  8. submergence of islands, low lying coastal lands etc
  9. mass extinction of plant, animal, bird and insect species
  10. the possible extinction of humans from Earth in the long run

While we can already see instances of climate changes listed from 1-9 all around us, the sad truth is that only fact that will trigger us to take action is the 10th point. If you are a person from Kerala, India like me I bet you are already aware of rising temperatures especially in districts like Palakkad, Thrissur etc were incidents of heat strokes were reported. No Keralite needs education on extreme events due to climate changes. Kerala experienced heavy floods and landslides in both 2018 and 2019. Erosion of seas shores in the coastal areas of Trivandrum, Alappad in Kollam etc have already been brought to our notice. Social media and various news channels keep us updated about the disastrous climate changes happening all across the world. But the million-dollar question is, what are we doing to stop it? What can we do to stop it? Let’s hear a solution that GRETA and her friends suggest:

PROTECT, RESTORE, FUND is the golden rule at the heart of every sincere environment protection campaign. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at a comprehensive list of items we can do to protect our environment from global warming.

1.Vote for leaders who defend nature and promote sustainable development. It is very difficult to protect our environment when our global/political leaders believe climate change is a hoax. We need leaders who are sensitive to the needs of nature, wildlife and tribal communities. Leaders who cannot be corrupted by businesses destroying the environment for selfish profits. Leaders who ‘walk the talk’, by themselves leading a sustainable lifestyle.

2. Let’s hold our government and leaders accountable. Lets put pressure on them to take effective measures to reduce carbon emission. One of our neighbouring countries Bhutan is the best example of this aspect. The total carbon emissions in Bhutan is negative. Kudos to the government and the people.👏 🙌 Let’s learn from them.

3. One effective way to reduce carbon emissions is by not extracting fossil fuels from the soil. This locks away a large amount of carbon from entering the carbon emission/pollution/global warming cycles. But this will require the shutting down of hundreds of mines in the world. Will our government be ready to do this? Our governments that pay subsidies to fossil fuels and extract taxes from petrol, diesel and natural gas prices. Well, we can always try. And given the extreme situation we live in, we have to. You need inspiration?  German chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to phase out coal power from Germany by 2038. In a democracy like India, where corruption and dependence of political parties on businesses for election fundings is high, this will be even more difficult to achieve. But if you want a place to start the fight, the best would be by helping environmental organizations to bring a ban on Indian government’s decision to give away 170,000 hectares of forest lands in Chhattisgarh for coal mining. A government that says they care for the environment and climate changes, should show that in their actions. Cutting down 170,000 hectares of forest land for open cast coal mining is definitely not the way to do that.

4. If we stop extracting fossil fuels, how will we meet the demands for energy and fuels for electricity, cooking and transport? Well one way we have all learnt, is to switch to cleaner, renewable sources of energy. Need inspiration? Sweden has already met its 2030 target for renewable energy this year(2019) and is targeting to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040. Sweden tapped to its huge potential of wind energy to achieve this goal. Being a country in the tropics, solar energy is definitely a source of energy India can tap from. Another viable source is wind energy. Hydrothermal energy projects are not recommended since the construction of big dams can cause other serious environmental and social issues as we saw in the case of Narmada. Ocean thermal energy,co-generation, waste to energy, geothermal energy, fuel cells etc are other potential sources to produce renewable energy in our country. But in order to make these methods economical, we will need financial assistance and technology transfer from other countries.

5. Invest in research for climate issue solutions. This includes making feasible methods for creating and using renewable energy, alternatives for plastics, e-vehicles, feasible solutions to clean environment and reverse effects of climate changes etc.

6. But will switching to cleaner sources of energy be able to meet the current energy demands of the world? No, definitely not. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” We need to reduce our energy consumption. 

7. Use electricity wisely. 

8. Switch from private vehicles to public transport. Promote carpooling. Your carbon emissions can be reduced significantly by making a switch as shown below:

car

9. Odd-even transport rules(odd and even numbered vehicles ply on alternate days), promotion of e-vehicles etc are schemes that can successfully reduce carbon emissions as Delhi showed us the way. Recent news about the ambitious project of Kerala government to introduce e-vehicles and charging stations in Kerala by 2022  is a change I really look forward to in my home state.

10. Sustainable food production. Agriculture in some parts of the world still makes use of primitive methods like ‘slash and burn’. We saw how disastrous such practises can turn out to be during the fires in Amazon rainforests, Brazil. We need to stop burning, specifically in agriculture(and also in general like paper, clothes, leaves etc.). If left open carelessly it can destroy the nearby vegetation as forest fires. Even without that, burning emits more carbon to the atmosphere. Instead, the waste plant matter should be diverted as fodder for cattle, used to make compost, used to make alternatives for plastic etc. Also, we should switch to agricultural practises where we are able to produce more harvest from smaller tracts of land. This is important because we need to convert a large amount of agricultural lands back to forest lands(like they once used to be) to have enough forest cover in this world.

11. Promote organic farming. Fertilisers and pesticides are responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases like Nitrous oxide into our environment. We should encourage our farmers to switch back to organic farming practices.  Crop rotation, natural predation methods, natural manures etc should be used instead. As citizens, we should support farmers by buying organically produced vegetables, fruits and other food products.

12. Being a vegan/reducing the amount of animal proteins we eat can help reduce carbon emissions. Not only will we be preventing the assault of farm animals, but less demand for such products will reduce the amount of forest lands currently being cleared to rear farm animals. This will also prevent the mass extinction of many animals especially fishes.

13. Don’t waste food. If you have a surplus, share it. The food we eat uses a lot of energy for its production, marketing and distribution. Not wasting food is a good way to make sure that energy is put to good use. Let’s cook and eat in the right proportions. If there is extra food, let’s make sure it reaches a much more needed person. If your parties or celebrations have extra food, let’s get in touch with the nearest needy homes or slum areas to give the food. If you have seen this scene in the Malayalam movie Ustad hostel based on the life of Narayanan Krishnan, it is difficult to look away from the reality of the country we live in.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnWYwLlnKBw/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

Especially for us Keralites we have a bigger responsibility and reason for guilt. Madhu, the tribal youth from Palakkad died for stealing food worth only 200INR. He died because he was hungry and because the system & people in our land failed to help him. One good thing I have seen in my state after this incident is ‘free food fridges’ and hotels offering ‘free food for poor people’. Let’s make this more common and keep them filled for the needy.

14. Let’s switch to a sustainable lifestyle. Let’s cultivate eco-friendly purchasing habits. We should reduce the amount of new plastics we produce in our country because plastics are effectively byproducts of fossil fuel extraction.  Carbon emissions occur when they are created and also if they are in some way incinerated. Avoiding fast fashion, refusing to purchase products with plastic packaging or content, switching to biodegradable alternatives of daily-use products like toothbrushes are some ways in which you can help. Indian government’s recent decision to ban single-use plastics is laudable. I sincerely hope the proposal gets implemented effectively.  Meanwhile, let’s stick with the 4R rule when we purchase – Refuse, Reuse, Recycle, Reduce.

15. Last but never the least, for heaven’s sake, let’s plant more trees. A recent study shows that planting a trillion trees might be the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and to slow down the climate changes. Preventing deforestation, ecosystem destruction, conversion of forests to farmlands can give quicker results than reforestation, for obvious reasons, trees take time to grow. It takes decades to restore a destroyed forest to its former glory. But the effort is definitely worth it because trees can eliminate large amounts of carbon from the air. Forests, soil, oceans etc are natural carbon sinks. As we saw in the earlier video, let’s protect and restore our forests. Let’s stop funding products that destroy our forests. Instead, let’s try to support organizations and movements that take care of our forests and struggle for the well being of our tribal communities.

Before I wind up this blog I would like to share with you all the actual reason why I wrote this blog. It’s a Whatsapp viral video, I received as a forward from one of my family members. I hope I’m adding the video from its original source. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Obviously, I don’t want Greta to fail but as the video rightly calls out, Greta Thunberg’s call is not just for a strike but also for action. So while we get charged up to hold our leaders accountable for climate changes, let’s not forget that we are also part of the problem. Let’s hold ourselves accountable. But the good thing about this is, if we are part of the problem, we can also be part of the solution. I hope this blog helps you to identify areas where you will be able to contribute and improve further. I know this is an exhaustive list. But let’s follow as many as we can, whenever we can. Even small changes can create everlasting ripples when it comes to environmental conservation. A small gesture of hugging trees and preventing them from being cut down started the Chipko movements. Even #fridaysforfuture started as a one student protest. Do that little bit you can. Do it more often. There’s one another help you can do to save our environment that I didn’t mention in the list. Share the word. Help to create awareness. Talk about the issues we discussed here with somebody else. When you set out to live a sustainable life, invite your friends and family to join you. Good luck with your ventures!

A note to the reader:
If you have any new points to add regarding this topic, do let me know in comments. I will edit and add them in the blog. Also if you think any facts provided in this write-up are wrong, let me know with references. I will correct them as well. Thank you. 😊

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